Orlando political, faith leaders mourn COVID-19 victims at vigil, encourage vaccinations

·2 min read

As the sun set over an adjacent cemetery, a small crowd gathered Tuesday at Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church to remember the more than 50,000 Floridians who died from COVID-19.

The vigil, organized by Orlando City Commissioner Bakari Burns in the heart of District 6 on the west side of the city, featured prayers by several local faith leaders.

“COVID-19 has had an immeasurable impact on our community,” Burns said. “We’ve lost loved ones, friends, colleagues — and if you don’t fit in that category, you likely know someone who has been impacted by this disease.”

Faith leaders asked for unity and peace over the divisiveness spurred by politics and misinformation about the vaccine.

They prayed for healing of those stricken with the highly-infectious virus and protection for the first responders who care for them.

“Amid this season of pandemic, we thank you for those, God, who you have gifted to serve our community,” said Mt. Pleasant’s Pastor J. Roy Morrison.

Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill underscored the community’s grim reality caused by the pandemic.

“Our funeral homes can’t accept bodies now right here on the west side of Orlando,” Hill said.

Local pastors are sometimes preaching at five or six funerals on Saturdays for COVID-19 victims, she added.

“You stepped on the front lines when people were afraid to allow COVID folks inside the church who had died,” Hill said of faith leaders. “You allowed them in so that we can have a proper going away for our loved ones.”

Among the grief, attendees also spoke of hope.

Orange County officials said Monday the area has nearly halved its positivity rate over the past month following the deadliest month of the pandemic.

Florida reported 6,904 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the lowest daily case count since July 12, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Monday, 72 percent of eligible Orange County residents 12 and older have received at least one vaccine dose.

Pfizer-BioNTech announced this week that its two-dose coronavirus vaccine has been shown to be safe and highly effective in children age 5 to 11 years, allowing for county officials to develop strategies to inoculate school-age children.

Before the memorial, free testing and vaccines were available through Orange Blossom Family Health’s mobile unit.

Burns, who is CEO of the healthcare agency, advocated for community members to take advantage of vaccination opportunities and to be patient with those who remain hesitant or unwilling to be inoculated.

“Let’s not badger them,” he said. “Let’s encourage them.”

lgarza@orlandosentinel.com

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